Horror has always had its place in culture. From classic fairytales to stories of witches and ghosts, many are often riddled with horrific events. Our paranoid ideas of the unknown and natural fear of the dark are timeless. We are fascinated by and believe in imaginary creatures from an early age. It’d only make sense then that videogames would embrace this old tradition… by letting us chainsaw mutated babies hanging from the ceiling.
Splatterhouse is a remake and the fifth in the series (if you include the NES game Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti). The story follows a young couple, Rick and Jen (now a stereotypical rock geek/chick) who enter the mansion of Dr. West to complete an article for their college paper. Things go immediately wrong: Jen is kidnapped and Rick is left in a pool of his own guts. Then a mysterious voice speaks to him; a mask lying a few metres away is offering its help. Rick places on the mask and becomes Ultimate Revenge Geek.
This introductory cut-scene instantly shows how elements of Splatterhouse have been bastardised to suit a new audience. Gone is the silent hero/Jason Voorhees look and in is World Wrestling Entertainment’s John Cena wearing skate shoes. The once tormented and angry Rick now has unfunny conversations with a mask, clearly trying to be The Darkness. Together they spew ’witty’ banter such as ‘That’s why we got an M-Rating’ and ‘What I wouldn’t do for some hand sanitizer’. The haunting atmosphere has been replaced with a metal soundtrack, Globe hi-tops, pocket chain and topless photos of your girlfriend (groan). Who makes these decisions? A group of guys sat around a table saying ‘rad’ and ‘bro’, drinking frappe-cappuccinos, listening to Linkin Park, comparing YouTube videos before all going out to rollerblade together at the age of 42? It may have an 18 certificate, but this is clearly aimed at younger gamers.
With your hi-tops and pocket-chain intact, the aim of the game is to punch/tear/rip/gouge/stab/smash your way through hordes of enemies to save your girlfriend. The previous game allowed you to move between rooms as you fought your way through a mansion. Letting you fight against time to get one of four possible endings saw you panic to save your family. This sense of urgency has been stripped out and replaced by a repeated pattern of clear-a-room fighting saved by varying locations and solid combat. The story takes you via an Evil Dead portal to many different locations and times throughout history that references classic films. Each phase finishes with a boss for you to defeat; ending in a QTE. As you fight through the phases you’ll collect nude photos of Jen, collect blood to power up and also find the one (truly) creepy element of the game: Dr. West’s journals. Dr. West’s mansion is littered with audio diaries explaining his human-rights disregarding research. These old, crackling recordings really capture the feel of old horror films like House by the Cemetery. The overall mood isn’t the same, however, and it carries a more cartoon-feel visually. Think of it as the black comedy sequel to a cult horror film.
This is one of Splatterhouse’s biggest faults; it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Is it a videogame dedication to the long-gone era of horror films? Or is it a comic-book adaption about a metal-fan who finds a mystical mask; The Hulk with gore? If the originals are the Friday 13th Part IV, The Burning, Re-Animator and House by the Cemetery of videogames then the latest edition is the inevitable tongue-in-cheek sequel. This remake has lost its horror roots – it’s pseudo-horror. It’s not creepy, scary or horrific (in the sense it wants to be). With that said, it is still a lot of fun to play and mindless gaming at its best.
Taken as a black-comedy (not the Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood sort), Splatterhouse is fun and much better than most imagined it would be. Rooms are cleared by killing all enemies or throwing them into devices to open the next door. Every blow feels like it connects and attacks expand and vary as you grow in strength. It is instantly satisfying. There’s the standard light and heavy attack, grab, block and run. Then you have the option to pick up weapons or dismembered limbs to kill with. Do enough damage to an enemy and they’ll glow red. Activate a grapple to switch to a QTE cut-scene and you’ll finish the enemy in a particularly gruesome fashion. These are fun to pull off the first time, but quickly become a chore. Damage is visibly shown on Rick’s body and looks great. Chucks of flesh will tear off and even Rick’s limbs can be lost; to then be used as a weapon. Every kill you make will feed the mask with blood, granting further powers and acting like XP.
By collecting blood, you power the mask enabling Rick to level up or unleash high-powered attacks. Increased health or a new attack is instantly beneficial in the game. Levelling up has not been tacked onto Splatterhouse; it’s fun and integral. It may not be as deep as Bayonetta’s system but it is instantly rewarding. These variations keep the game from becoming boring. The standard attack can be levelled up several times. With each upgrade, the attack becomes stronger and the animation changes or extends. It’s little touches that make both the combat and your need to progress satisfying.
To keep the pace from slowing you’ll occasionally enter 2D sections. Characters shut up, the metal soundtrack is gone and for a moment you can feel the atmosphere of the originals. The inclusion of 2D sections is great and one of the game’s best moments. The evidence is there to suggest Splatterhouse should’ve perhaps been 2D throughout, and in its retro-feel, feel quite fresh. It’s a shame then that instant death traps litter these levels. With no checkpoints, you’ll find yourself starting these levels over and over again. Restarting sections due to a failed jump will have you tearing off your own arm and smashing your TV to pieces in no time.
The platforming sections are abysmal and falling to your death is not uncommon. To add to the frustration of all the jumping sections and traps is the long loading screens. These are a concern; even if the graphics during them are great. Miss a jump right at the beginning of the level and you’ll still have to wait through a long loading screen that stutters and suffers from frame-rate issues. Towards the end of the game it was taking up to four minutes to load. This was resolved by re-booting. With some over-powered enemies, QTEs and frustrating platforming sections, you’ll be seeing a lot of that loading screen.
When you do make it through one of the twelve phrases you’ll unlock new content. This could be a new mask (the 360 version has a RROD mask that ‘will cause a red ring of death’), the ability to stare at pixel breasts, fight in the Survival mode, view Dr. West’s journal or unlock one of the original games.
As a huge fan of the series it was disheartening that much of what was loved has been removed. If the time spent picking the metal bands, writing the dialogue and making ‘sexy’ photos had been used to polish the game it could have been brilliant. Whilst the gameplay remains true and is good fun, fans will only be revisiting the disc to play the originals.